Setting Boundaries

(3-4 minute read)

Once, my teacher told me a story that has stuck with me for many years. There was a husband and wife (I’ll refer to them as Thomas and Karen). They lived on the same road as all of Thomas’s siblings and his parents.

His side was a very close family. They typically walked in each other’s houses without knocking. This was difficult for many of the in-laws, like Karen, whose parents and family were not like this. After talking with the family to resolve the issue, Thomas and his siblings decided everyone would knock before going into each other’s houses.

However, the Thomas’s mother felt exempted from her children’s decision. She still walked in to everyone’s houses whenever she wanted to. Karen did not like this. She felt her mother-in-law’s unannounced appearances, and additional parenting to their children was disrupting the way they wanted to raise their family. Not to mention, her mother-in-law was always disappointed that their house wasn’t kept as clean as hers.

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Repeatedly, they’d asked Thomas’ mother to let them know when she was coming over. But she just wouldn’t. Thomas and Karen were getting frustrated, as I’m sure many of us would be.

Until one day, after the kids were at cousin’s and all the shades were drawn, Thomas and Karen were getting a little intimate in the front living room. Just then, Karen’s mother-in-law walked in as unannounced as ever. In a state of shock, she screamed, “OH MY GOODNESS!” and ran out the door as fast as she could.

Everyone was embarrassed about the situation; Karen especially was mad. She was mad until the next time her mother-in-law wanted to come over and she called first, and then every time after that. Her mother-in-law would always call Karen and Thomas before coming over to their house. In fact, she’d now call before going into any of her kids houses. After some unfortunate embarrassment, the mother-in-law was finally able to understand why it was important to not cross the boundary that had been set.

Sometimes boundaries are easy to set and sometimes they are hard to set. But if there are boundaries that are important to your family, by all means, set those boundaries. Here are a few tips of how to set boundaries:

1: Talk About Boundaries With Your Spouse

Boundaries come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and reasons - find what works for you. Is there a goal your family wants to reach? Are there issues you’ve noticed going on? Are there situations you need to avoid? Based on the boundaries you see are needed, talk with your spouse about which boundaries to set and what the boundary will look like.

2: Set The Boundaries

Boundaries can be set for yourself, your marriage, your kids, with extended family, work, etc. A boundary may look like:

  • Kids can’t have more than one soda.

  • Only ask in-laws to babysit twice a month.

  • I need to know what time you’ll be home, so I don’t stay up waiting for you all night.

  • Even though playing games is fun, we can’t stay at in-laws past 8:30 pm so we can get the kids to bed.

  • “Mom, give us a 2-day heads up so we can get ready before you show up on our door and ask to spend the night.”

3: Communicate Clearly

Whoever the boundary is being set with, communicate it directly and lovingly. Let your in-laws know why you have to leave their game nights at 8:30pm. Teach your kids why it’s important to you that they clean their room before playing with friends. Explain to your siblings why your kids can’t have more than one soda when at their house. Your relationship with others is important. Having boundaries can help establish ways to keep the relationship a positive aspect in your life.

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4: Enforce the Boundaries

As a kid, I knew that when I was grounded for a week, it only lasted as long as mom actually remembered it. I’d be extra good and every time in less than 48 hours she’d forget that she had grounded me, and I was back to doing what I wanted. The boundary lines weren’t actually clear so I never felt I had to keep them.

If you set a boundary that your kids need to have their rooms clean before playing with friends, stick to it. If a boundary is not enforced, it will soon look like a fence with gaping holes in it. Just like a fence with holes doesn’t do its job, a boundary that’s not solid is going to get walked all over until it’s forgotten.

If you feel like boundaries could help you and your family and want help making them,
the therapists here at CVC can help. Call or email us to set up your FREE Discovery Visit and find a therapist who can help you best.